Even for the most design-obsessed, it’s nice to know that there are those décor pieces that have our backs no matter what. Top of that list? The Tulip Table. Designed by Finnish-American maker Eero Saarinen for Knoll in 1955, the Tulip Table is exactly what its name implies, an elegant, sculpted dining table inspired by everyone’s favorite Dutch stunner: the tulip. The Tulip Table’s fluted base—picture a champagne stem—and basic round top makes it a killer match for both modern and historic homes, as well as modern and eclectic seats. Curious to learn more about this goes-with-everything charmer? Ahead, discover how the Tulip Table came to be. Plus, get the scoop its cousins—the Tulip Chair and Tulip Ottomans—learn what eclectic chairs to pair it with, and identify tricks for how to spot a worthy Tulip Table lookalike.
An Icon Takes Root
In 1948, Eero Saarinen designed his iconic Womb Chair to suit Knoll president Florence Knoll’s request for “a chair that was like a basket full of pillows.” The result was the all-cushy Womb Chair. Its success motivated Eero to continue experimenting for the company, and in 1955 Eero set his sights on—in his words—cleaning up “the slum of legs” under the typical American dining table. No small task, the Tulip Table prototype included hundred of drawings. Those were followed by dollhouse-size models, full-scale clay models, and finally test sessions in Saarinen’s own home.
The basic premise of the Tulip Table relied on reducing a dining table’s traditional four legs to an aerodynamic pedestal. To achieve the perfect structure, Eero ultimately landed on a molded cast aluminum base that attaches to the tabletop with three screws. To complement his tables, Eero also designed Tulip Chairs. For anyone who’s ever wondered how exactly the Tulip Table got its name (given that it’s not exactly a body double for the tulip), the name actually comes from the Tulip Chair. Catchy as it was, the term simply caught on for the entire collection, which eventually expanded to include Tulip ottomans, side tables, and coffee tables.
A Design Classic
Available with two surface shapes, five surface finishes, and several sizes, the Tulip Table and its accompanying chairs have earned stand-by status for an impressive pool of designers. “Sometimes simple is best,” says Rebecca Ward of Rebecca Ward Design. “We love using the tulip table in a modern setting, or even mixed in with some vintage pieces for an eclectic look,” she adds.
While many designers love matching a Tulip Table with Tulip Chairs, plenty of them also like mixing things up. Since the Tulip Table’s futuristic leanings make it a perfect mate for modern chairs, designers love pairing it with modern seats like Eames Chairs, Wishbone Chairs, Ant Chairs and even Warren Platner Chairs. For those who prefer a more eclectic look, there are plenty of traditional chairs, too. Chairs prime for going the opposite-attracts route? French Louis Chairs, Bamboo Chippendale chairs, or Bentwood Café Chairs.
And last but not least, let’s not forget about the option to go rogue with Tulip Chairs. Pair them with a non-Tulip Table, like the designer Amy Berry did above, for an out-of-the-box retro moment.
More Tulips to Love
Let’s cut to the chase—Tulip Tables have a reputation for being budget busters. They’ll last you a lifetime, sure, but that doesn’t mean they don’t require some serious saving. If you’re not in the market to drop a car-sized down payment on a table yet, consider a Tulip Table that’s “In the Style of” Saarinen’s original. Ranging from near clones to low-cost re-imaginings in materials like plastic and brass, lookalike Tulip Table options are plentiful. While you’re unlikely to come across a table who’s construction rivals Knoll’s, there are some traits to keep vigilant about. Look for pieces with pedestals that appear to be one solid piece. Seeking out durable top surfaces is important as well. Generally, marbles and woods will hold up better than metals, enamels, or plastics.
While on the hunt, also keep an eye out for Tulip Tables by Burke. The Dallas-based Burke Inc. began producing Tulip-inspired furniture not long after Knoll’s debut. Initially, Burke avoided a lawsuit by changing the legs of the Tulip Chairs into a propeller shape. (The tables, oddly enough remain nearly identical). While Burke Tulip Tables will generally set you back less than a Knoll version, the demand for them is growing. Sightings in classic TV shows, such as Star Trek and everyone’s favorite party of eight, The Brady Bunch, have increased their demand among the non-design community as well.
Lead photo by John Merkl